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Two Government departments among bodies reprimanded over poor FOI responses

Two Government departments and other public bodies have been pulled up by the information regulator for their sub-par responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the Department for Education (DfE) and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) had been given recommendations with suggested improvements after “continued failings” to meet their obligations under the FOI Act.

Five public authorities in total have seen action taken, with Sussex Police and South Yorkshire Police having been issued with enforcement notices for their failings.

The Financial Ombudsman Service has also been given practice recommendations.

FOI requests are requests made in writing for information such as printed documents, letters or emails made by anyone to public authorities in the UK.

The DfE’s compliance rate for responding within the necessary timeframes to these requests has been declining since 2019, the ICO said.

Similarly, there has been “a consistently poor level of performance” from the FCDO in responding to information requests in time, with only 33% of requests answered within the deadline from July to September last year, the regulator said.

The FOI request response rate of South Yorkshire Police was classed as “unacceptable on any level”, with a compliance rate of under 18% for most of last year.

Sussex Police had an FOI backlog of 753 requests, including 389 over six months old, with a most recent compliance rate of 32%.

Information Commissioner John Edwards published an open letter to public organisations on Monday to remind them that transparency is essential and resources must be dedicated to access to information.

The DfE, FCDO and Financial Ombudsman Service have until May 31 to confirm and show they have complied with the recommendations.

The ICO has now issued nine enforcement notices in the last year.

ICO director of Freedom of Information and Transparency Warren Seddon said: “Transparency is fundamental to our democracy. Information delayed is information denied, and people have the legal right to promptly receive information they’re entitled to.

“Sussex Police and South Yorkshire Police have let people down with their woeful failure to comply with the law on responding to information requests.

“The Commissioner has been clear that public sector leaders should take transparency seriously. Where organisations fail to do this we will take enforcement action so people’s information rights are upheld.”